"Surely, she is a different child at home?" they'd say.
"No", we'd reply in unison, a solid barrier between this child and whatever might threaten her. "She's just shy".
It was more than shyness. We could never discuss that in mixed company. Her silence was learned, formed from endless hours of being pushed aside and ignored. Her father couldn't be interrupted once Sports Center came on; his eyes glazed over at the television screen until she dare speak. Her words were met with anger, a spanking, a "So God help me ..." She became the paint on the walls, the padding sound of bare feet on carpeting, the worn ends of the La-Z-Boy rocking in the corner of the living room.
When he returned her to us on Sunday evenings, she was wholly defeated.
Years of court appearances, mediation and paperwork usher in a new definition of family. We retreat to the safety of the Atlantic, hugging the shoreline, burying our hearts deep into the sand. The pain lifts like morning fog; all at once there and then ... nothing.
And now she teeters on the precipice of that strange chasm between girl and woman, staring down the faces of what could be and what might have been. She battles demons we cannot see, evidenced by the ribbons of pink and purple hovering above her bones. Bravery and fortitude are her mantle, every action carefully weighed and considered before a step forward. The nets that lie in wait to catch her look like snares, a trap to weigh her down with codependency and shame.
She walks on. She walks alone.
My husband and I huddle together in the dark hours, whispering solutions to problems we don't fully understand. Those Sunday evenings of regret and apologies are long behind us, but their affects are ever present. Desperation and empty threats are our only arsenal. We attack, then retreat to lick our wounds.
She was oh so little once, with impossibly blue eyes and blonde ringlets. I'd swaddle her wriggly body and sing her to sleep, pausing to nuzzle her fat cheeks or kiss her rosebud nose. The power of motherhood is strongest when they are so new. A touch of the hand, an enveloping pair of arms, some milk - all perfect remedies for whatever ails your child.
"This is the hardest thing," my husband says with a sigh. "The reality has sunk in that no matter how much she's hurting, there is nothing - nothing - that you or I can do to make it go away".
And we huddle together in the darkness once more, buoying each other through the tidal waves of madness.